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Does an On-Board Accident Claim Differ from Others?

Although air travel is the safest form of transport, and much of your time on-board the flight is spent strapped in your seat, accidents can still occur.

Thankfully, the majority of accidents upon aircraft are limited to burns from hot coffee, slips, or items falling out of the overhead lockers than anything more sinister, but that is not to say that such accidents cannot cause serious injuries.

An example of a serious injury on board a flight recently made it to UK headlines when a man was hit in the head by luggage that had fallen from an overhead locker on a British Airways flight. Witnesses claimed the locker had “burst open” as the aircraft taxied. The afflicted holidaymaker was reportedly seriously injured when he was struck as the plane prepared to take off from London Heathrow Airport, destined for Bangkok in Thailand.

So when an accident happens on a flight, who is responsible?

In the circumstances of the accident described above, you would imagine that the overhead locker was either faulty, overstuffed, or had not been closed properly, which would lead you to point the finger at the cabin crew and the airline, but what if the item had fallen out because another passenger had failed to close it properly, or had failed to adequately pack their bag? Who would then be responsible?

The Montreal Convention covers accidents that arise during the course of international travel by air and in the case of death, injury or delay to passengers or damage, or loss of baggage and cargo, it imposes liability upon the airline. The Montreal Convention has a major benefit in respect of such accidents, or damage, as it is not necessary to establish fault on the part of the airline for the claim to succeed. This means that even if the item which fell from the overhead locker was not caused as a result of a failure on the part of the cabin crew, or a fault with the locking mechanism, you may still be able pursue a claim for compensation against the airline.

Although the Montreal Convention imposes strict liability upon the airline in the event of death or personal injury to passengers, it also includes certain limitations in respect of the airlines liability, and in order to succeed in such a claim you will need to establish that an accident occurred, the accident caused death or personal injury, and the accident was the result of an unexpected unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger.

What actually constitutes an accident under the terms of the convention has been the cause of much debate over the years but would probably include the following:

  • A collision on the runway
  • Collapsing seatback
  • Falling luggage
  • Burns and scolds from hot food and drink
  • Food poisoning
  • An air crash

As stated above, the accident must cause death or injury to invoke the convention. The accident cannot be the injury itself, and the injury cannot arise as a result of the passenger’s own internal reaction. At first this may seem difficult to comprehend, and has again been the cause of much debate, but if you consider conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which develop internally and are not caused by an accident, you can then start to appreciate how the convention would apply.

Other conditions which would not normally be regarded as accidents under the Montreal Convention are:

  • Back injuries due to spending too much time in your seat
  • Ear injuries due to changes in pressure
  • Swollen legs

The above lists are not exhaustive and it is important that if you suffer an injury during a flight that you report it immediately. It is also worth noting that the Montreal Convention covers the embarkation and disembarkation process of the aircraft and can extend into the terminal building if you are in a designated area and in the control of the airline.

Stephen Goodman is a travel lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

If you or your holiday party are injured in an aviation accident our No Win, No Fee Solicitors can help you with your claim for air accident compensation.

Call us on Freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online. From outside the UK please call +44 20 7657 1555.

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